Saddle Creek | Cursive | Reviews


Happy Hollow

Author: Peter A. Holden
08/22/2006 | | | Album Review
To use a key word from their latest press release, Cursive "swaggers." It's the quintessential word to describe their musical style because Cursive have no one stylistic element that puts them into a category. Step way, way back and Cursive are rock music. Dig just a little under the surface, and it's a waste of time to try to assign values that pigeonhole them. If I had to create a genre, I'd have to call it swagger. It's their charismatic quality as well as their overall musical vibe.

Happy Hollow is the reinvigoration of Cursive's swaggerism. It seems, with every record, Cursive step up to add a new degree of dimension. From The Storms of Early Summer… through Domestica, Burst and Bloom, and The Ugly Organ, Cursive have surprised us every time with a twist in flavor and a new approach to the same caliber of songwriting. This is rare. As I said above, some bands get themselves a good record, but good bands keep making great records. What's the secret? Staying fresh, and in turn, refreshing the songwriting. Happy Hollow is a clear example of progression keeping pace with integrity and talent. It's a brand new feel like a new coat, form-fitting to the body we've always known. It's that comfortable familiarity which makes Cursive's development acceptable and welcome. It's not jarring: it's deliciously palatable and extremely satisfying.

One of Cursive's strengths is their ability to be both subtle and completely unsubtle. It's almost as if it's an unspoken key to their success. Much of their early work is flagrantly caustic and bombastic. Screams careened from guitarist Tim Kasher's cords, while dissonance rang out from every other instrument. Spastic but arranged starts and stops made them erratic and emotive like a firebrand of exposed emotion. But the more you listened, the more you realized it wasn't aggressive screamy chaos, but rather more like lullabies and prayers. And each step of the way they've maintained that strength and power, as well as the depth of being obvious and coy. New instrumentation is quite often their most obvious of changes, from string parts to additional female vocalists and, most recently, horns galore. Happy Hollow's first immediate difference is the overwhelming presence of tuba, trumpets, trombones, saxophones, and more. The subtlety, however, is in the songcrafting. The meter, the tambor, the rhythms, and the character all show signs of maturity and orchestration that fans of earlier Cursive efforts would not imagine possible. It's rock-a-billy, honky-tonk, Louisiana jazz, soul, and folky rock exploded upon by punk attack and enthusiasm. Sometimes all at once, other times less involved. Whereas all of these flavors were there in some degree before, it's only on Happy Hollow that we've finally seen them sharing camera time. This album champions everything Cursive have achieved to date.

As a long time fan of the band's, I'll be as honest and upfront as a reviewer can be: this may come off as a little biased. But take to heart that I'm a tough sell. A very tough sell. I don't think there is a single band or artist I've loved that's managed to escape scrutiny and not had to reprove themselves to me time and again. I've turned on and been let down far too many times to know that sometimes bands make a great record, but that doesn't make them a great band. But enough about my petty nit-picking.

I leave this one up to the fans from here on out. Cursive are a force to be reckoned with, but not in the mercenary, soccer hooligan sense. They are important to music because they are a reminder of the fact that music is as much about fun as it is about actually writing something refreshing. I'd give you a few highlights, but there's no one track that screams out as any more or less quality than the others. "Bad Science" reminds me of The Rocky Horror Picture Show meets, well, Cursive. But that's as differentiating as I can be. Sorry folks. From beginning to end, on this album, every album, and as a statement of their career, Cursive are phenomenal to the very end.
Happy Hollow

Happy Hollow

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